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How to Get High Quality and Genuine Testimonials (Even If You Don’t Have Any Clients Yet)

Testimonials are very powerful tools when it comes to convincing a prospective client to work with you. Third party evidence of your expertise, work quality, and responsiveness is difficult to beat! And they can be used in a variety of places — web site, proposals, newsletters, social media profiles, emails signatures, etc. With a bit of upfront effort you can start to gather a collection of testimonials to draw from for different situations.

It is my belief that high impact (and genuine) testimonials are grossly underutilized in all industries. Don’t overlook one of your greatest potential competitive advantages!

But how do you go about gathering them? And what if you don’t have any clients yet? I’ve got you covered!

Today I’m going to share three tactics you can immediately apply in your consulting / freelancing practice regardless of whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been at it awhile:

  • I’ll walk you through a technique for getting testimonials (legitimately) before you have any clients. This technique is also useful even if you already have clients because it’ll give you a larger pool of testimonials to add to your business arsenal.
  • Then I’ll show you a technique for getting possible testimonials from every consulting engagement past or present.
  • Then I’ll share a technique you can use for increasing both your testimonial gathering success rate and testimonial quality at the same time.

You can see how I use a few of the testimonials I’ve gathered here and you can also see a larger collection here (that I draw from for different situations as needed). What I describe below are the same tactics I’ve used to gather my testimonials.

Here’s what you do to gather up a handful of testimonials no matter where you are at in your consulting career.

This approach will work if you have a lot of clients already. It’ll also work if you’re just starting out.

Leverage Current and Recent Professional Connections

First, make a list of your current co-workers, team members, and supervisors. If you do not currently have any of these, start with the last ones you did have.

Don’t forget to consider folks from other parts of the organization that you may have assisted and left a positive impression with too! Also, in some cases, there may be other folks you can include if you worked closely enough with them: vendor key contacts for example.

Now that you have that list of people, ask each of them to write a couple sentences about your work together. Let them know you won’t be offended if they don’t feel comfortable writing up anything at all (and make sure you mean it!). You definitely don’t want anyone to feel pressured or awkward just because they were too busy or don’t like having their name shared publicly.

Here’s a simple testimonial request email / letter you can borrow:

Subject: Feedback on our past work together?

As you may know, I work for myself now and I’m still growing my independent consulting / freelance practice. I have a favor to ask: We’ve worked together previously so you know something of my character and capabilities. I’d appreciate a couple sentences – a brief testimonial – describing your impression of me, our work together, and your satisfaction with the results.

I’d really appreciate it! And it would go a long way towards growing my business, particularly when I’m under consideration by someone who hasn’t worked with me before.

Only include what you’d be comfortable with me sharing with someone else and isn’t considered confidential or proprietary.

And if you don’t feel comfortable providing a testimonial – no matter the reason – that’s okay too! Thanks!

Leverage Former Professional Connections

Next, make a list of all of your prior job(s) or positions – even from years back – and follow the same approach as you did for your more recent co-workers, team members, and supervisors to identify a handful of folks to ask.

Once you’ve listed them, if you don’t know how to reach them you can try looking them up on LinkedIn.com (and if you’re really stuck check out How to Find, Reconnect With, and Revive Your Professional Network). In fact, check out LinkedIn.com either way because just browsing it may remind you of a few folks you forgot about on your first pass.

Here’s an approach email sample, which is just an adaptation of the prior one but for your older contacts:

Subject: Feedback on our past work together?

It’s been a while and you may or may not know, but I work for myself now. I’m still growing my independent consulting / freelance practice and I have a favor to ask: We’ve worked together previously so you know something of my character and capabilities. I’d appreciate a couple sentences – a short testimonial – describing your impression of me, our work together, and your satisfaction with the results of our shared projects.

I’d really appreciate it! And it would go a long way towards growing my business, particularly when I’m under consideration by someone who hasn’t worked with me before.

Only include what you’d be comfortable with me sharing with someone else and isn’t considered confidential or proprietary.

And if you don’t feel comfortable providing a testimonial – no matter the reason – that’s okay too! Thanks!

Leverage Each New Client

Finally – once you have a client or two – there are two places you should look at to gather testimonials from them for possible use:

  1. Review any emails they’ve sent you at various progress points in your work together (i.e. a positive line or two about the results of a project). Once you’ve found some worthy ones, strip out anything likely proprietary or confidential and request their permission to use the quotes and/or to adjust them in any way they’d prefer. Note: Absolutely do not just take their emailed comments and just start using these as a testimonial without getting permission; it’s still private correspondence … plus it’s the professional thing to do!
  2. Alternatively (or in addition) ask them to specifically write you a testimonial. Tell them exactly why. Something like:

Subject: Glad the project went well / a favor to ask

As you know I work for myself. I have a favor to ask: I’m always looking for new clients I can collaborate with just as well as you! If you’re comfortable doing so, I’d appreciate a brief testimonial.

It only has to be a couple sentences describing our work together, your impression of me, and your satisfaction with the results of our engagement. Only include what you’d be comfortable with me sharing with another prospective client – there’s no need to include anything proprietary confidential.

I’d really appreciate it! And it will go a long way towards keeping my business sustainable. And when I encounter a prospective client who hasn’t worked with me before, they’ll be better informed.

If you don’t feel comfortable providing a testimonial – no matter the reason – that’s okay too! Thanks!

You can send the above email to your buyer (the decision maker that hired you) or anyone else involved in the project that worked with you in any way. (I suggest you do both).

Pro tip: The best time to ask for a testimonial is right at the moment the project has been substantially completed. This is when everything is fresh in their mind and everyone is happy. People get busy and new projects and problems come up so later is generally not better in business. But don’t stress if you forgot to ask right at the project wrap-up or end up needing to follow-up later on to get the testimonial (or to get them to sign-off on using a quote pulled from your prior correspondence together).

Final Thoughts

I’ve almost always gotten a “yes” when I’ve asked to use a quote from an email. And I’ve had a sufficient enough success rate asking for testimonials that it doesn’t matter if some folks end up being too busy, uncomfortable endorsing you, or unable to provide a testimonial due to their organization’s policy … or whatever the reason.

You can use the process outlined above as a one-off activity and it’ll help your future sales, proposal acceptance rate, and lead generation but…. (see next tip).

Pro tip: Once you complete this activity, add a calendar item to repeat it in a few months. (Ultimately, you should add the client testimonial gathering steps into your post-engagement checklist too).

Bonus mental health tip: Whenever you catch yourself being doubtful of your value as a consultant (such as just as you’re finishing up the final draft of a proposal and are debating as to what fees to include or whether you’re even good enough for the proposed project): review the authentic testimonials people have written about you. It can help with the dreaded impostor syndrome. If they weren’t real this would be a really bad idea, but your collected testimonials are from real people that have worked with you. They’ve genuinely appreciated your contribution to the shared work you’ve been involved in together. So all past evidence suggests … You got this.

By Josh Richards

Josh is a consulting network/ systems/ cloud engineer, freelance high stakes IT project manager, and former technology executive. He has consulted on information technology matters for over twenty-five years. In 2006, consulting became his primary source of income (just before the global financial crisis!). He’s a big fan of craft beer, freshly roasted coffee, artistic burlesque, good food, and applying science and reason to problems and opportunities small and large (and just for fun). When he has time and energy he also likes to get out on his bike or attend a soccer match.

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